What’s So Special About Special Collections? (Featuring an OHC Reference Archivist!)

What’s So Special About Special Collections? (Featuring Our Reference Archivist!)

The Ohio History Connection Archives/Library is a Special Collections Library. But what exactly does that mean? Isn’t every library special? (Correct answer: yes.)

The term “special” refers to the items that are kept at the OHC Archives/Library. We collect things that are original, unique, or rare. If harm comes to an item in a Special Collections Library, it cannot be replaced. We are trying to preserve these items forever.

This means that if you use items held by the Ohio History Connection Archives/Library you have to be on site in our physical library (sometimes called the research room) and keep to a few specific rules. When library items circulate, or go out on loan to people with library cards, they are exposed to lots of harsh environmental factors such as dirt, water, or your nosy dog with a taste for bestsellers.

Man’s best friend, librarian’s biggest nightmare?

If your dog finds your public library’s copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and chews on all of the even numbered pages, the library can purchase a new copy. If your dog chews up William McKinley’s Civil War diary, well, we are out of luck. So we ask that you read OHC’s collections in our library where we know there won’t be any dogs (or rain, or spilled food, etc.).

Almost everyone learns how to use their public library fairly early in life, but not too many people are instructed on the ways of the Special Collections Library. But don’t worry. Our lovely reference archivist, Tutti, is here to answer some questions that should help prepare you for your visit!

1.Would you like to introduce yourself? I’m Tutti. My job is to help people find information in our (and other) archives.


2. Let’s start with some basic vocabulary. What’s a call slip? How about a page (are you sure that isn’t part of a book)?  Our library has a closed stacks system, which means that most of our collections are held behind the scenes in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Storing collections in such an environment extends their lifespan, so that the items researchers examine today can be the same items their grandchildren request in the future.
To request materials from our stacks, you fill out a call slip; a small form with information about the title, author and catalog number of the item you wish to see. Our staff uses this information to page the material; finding its location in the stacks and delivering it to you for your review.

3. What can I bring into the library (and what should I leave at home)?  You are welcome to bring notebooks and binders, computers and pencils. We ask that all bags be stored in a locker. No food or drink is permitted in our library. We do allow digital cameras for personal research purposes, but no handheld or personal scanners are permitted.

4.Where can I find out about the cool stuff you’ve got at the OHC Archives/Library?  Our catalog is available online should you wish to explore our collections before your visit. Selections of our collections have been made available digitally on OhioPix and Ohio Memory. Our library and newspaper catalog records are also available in WorldCat, where researchers from around the world find our collections.

5. What do most people come to see?  Many people come to our library to find pieces of their family history. The experience of Ohioans in the Civil War is a strength of our collection, and we hold original land entry books kept by the Ohio Auditor of State which list the first purchasers of land in Ohio from the Federal government. One of the best parts of my job is the wide variety of research interests of our visitors.
Land Office.

 6. What’s your favorite thing at the OHC Archives/Library?  It’s not one thing, but a collection of many things. We have perhaps the largest collection of Ohio-related newspapers in the world. Newspapers are a great resource because they present history in context; what was happening in a town and around the world, what jobs were available, what goods were for sale, etc. Newspapers support so many avenues of research. The earliest newspaper published in Ohio predates statehood; and the fact that the medium is ephemeral by nature makes the breadth of our collection really remarkable.


7. Besides the OHC Archives/Library, do you have a favorite library?  More than one! The Coshocton Public Library is my hometown library, and it has a fantastic local history and genealogy section. The William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library at the Ohio State University is a wonder. The Library of Congress has the most amazing collections and provides exceptional online access to materials.

Ohio State Library stacks, c. 1930s-1940s.

8. I’m not a serious researcher or a genealogist, why should I visit?  If you have even a casual interest in a person, place or thing related to Ohio’s history, you are likely to find something related in our collections. Also, we love to foster the serendipitous discovery; finding something you never knew before that sparks a passion to learn more.

The Archives/Library is open Wednesday through Saturday: 10-5. We are located on the third floor of the Ohio History Center at 800 E. 17th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43211. There is no charge to use our library. You can find more information on our website: https://www.ohiohistory.org/archives-library.

A big thank you to Tutti for appearing on the History Blog and for her constant service to the curious citizens of Ohio!

Posted August 9, 2017
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